Death By Berzerk


Peter Burkowski and Jeff Dailey would definitely fall under the category of "hardcore gamers." If these names mean absolutely nothing to you, then let me familiarize you with these two young men.
In the 1980's a popular arcade game named "Berzerk" was released and was very successful. Years later it would be even more famous, but for reasons other than the games actual success. In January of 1981, Jeff Dailey died at the age of 19 of a heart attack after posting a high score on Berzerk. One year later in October, Peter Burkowski also died of a heart attack at the age of 18- seconds after posting two high scores in less than 15 minutes. These two kids were the first to really spark great controversy among a video game. They are also the first to "die from playing a video game."
What I find intriguing is the lack of information I can find on this subject on the internet. When I search for Peter and Jeff's names I find them mentioned very frequently, but only for the incidents themselves. What I would really like to find is how these deaths were perceived at the time they happened. I remember my parents not wanting me to play video games because they didn't want me to be a lazy bum, not because they thought it was going to kill me. I can only imagine what mothers were warning their kids of when they heard this news... "Don't play that game I heard it can kill you!" Or- "You keep playing that game you might die!"
I'm also surprised that the first time I heard of this tragic event was in this class. I feel like it is a pretty significant piece of history that not a lot of people know about. Had my mother, or my friends mothers known about this, I highly doubt we would be the gamers that we are today. This leads me to my next point: were there great attempts at trying to sweep this controversy under the rug?
I'm sure that the owners of Berzerk either went to great lengths to try to make sure that this information did not get out, or to ensure the people that these kids died because of causes they could not control. Which, I am sure was indeed the case.
In conclusion, I do think that there is no way the game itself killed these boys. It had to have been malnourishment, probably lack of sleep (seeing how they were obviously working very hard to post high scores), and probably some underlying heart problems. So don't worry moms out there. You can rest assured that there are no games out there that will kill your children.



adminl, Tue, 2011-03-22 10:23

Yeah, I too wonder about the lack of information around both of their stories. You can find their names in several places, but the story always seems to be a paraphrase of those basic details, which you've included here, and nothing more. The account recorded here is contemporaneous (1982), but not much more detailed. I did once go digging into lexisnexis for obituaries, but I didn't find anything useful.

If you happen to come across anything, let me know.

carepackagepete, Thu, 2011-03-24 00:26

Will do... I'm sure the obituaries were interesting.

Karen, Thu, 2011-12-01 13:14

I'm actually doing a paper on the adverse effects of Video Games and young children, I came across these two stories but I can't seem to find any hard evidence that this ever happened. I too went looking in LexisNexis and came up empty. I am starting to think this is just folklore. I also did a search in all national newspapers found nothing! not a trace of the story anywhere (at least not in any source I can use for my paper). There is a lot of mention of thier names, a lot of potatoes but no meat in this stories.

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